Africa’s major gets bigger and richer
Harare – Africa’s Major, the Nedbank Golf Challenge, will have a bigger world-class field, increased prize money and, for the first time, will provide Official World Golf and Ryder Cup points when it tees off at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, South Africa, on December 5.
What was just an invitational 12-man field last year, which has been the standard field for this tournament since it started in 1981, will this year be a 30-man field featuring some of the finest golfers in the world.
The purse has been boosted from US$5 million last year to US$6.5 million this year, largely to cater for the expanded field, with the winner still getting US$1.25 million while the one who finishes last is guaranteed US$100 000.
This virtually means there is a US$100 000 appearance fee for all the golfers who will turn up for what promises to be a grand duel for a tournament that appears to be growing in leaps and bounds.
US Open winner, Justin Rose, has confirmed that he will play in the Nedbank Golf Challenge this year but the real big name, after what happened on the United States PGA Tour this year, has to be Swedish hotshot, Henrik Stenson, who was, towards the end of the regular season, playing probably the finest golf in the world.
No wonder why the organisers are excited that the Swede has signed up for a four-day African retreat at Sun City.
“Swede,Henrik Stenson, has accepted an invitation to compete in this year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge, bringing arguably the hottest golfer in the world this year to the Gary Player Country Club from 5-8 December,” the organisers said in a statement on their official website.
“Since his finish of second in the Open Championship in July, Stenson went on an incredible run that saw him finish third in the PGA Championship and then win the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship to claim the overall FedEx Cup title and a US$10 million bonus.
“It marked one of the most amazing comebacks in the game, with Stenson ranked as low as 230th in the world at the start of 2012 and then rising to a career high of fourth on the Official World Golf Ranking in 2013.
“He returns to Sun City seeking a second Nedbank Golf Challenge title after beating American Kenny Perry by a crushing nine strokes in 2008.”
Stenson will certainly fancy his chances because he has generally done well at Sun City, on the occasions he has come down for the Nedbank Golf Challenge, finishing second in 2006, fourth in 2007, first in 2008, and then second in 2009.
“Henrik has been a phenomenon of the 2013 season. He’s probably the most talked about player of the year and we are honoured to have him in our field,” Alastair Roper, the Tournament Director for the Nedbank Golf Challenge, said on comments posted on the official website.
“When he won here in 2008 he thrilled the fans with a display of ball striking that was of the best ever seen in this tournament. It is incredibly exciting that we can welcome him back at the end of such a magnificent year for him.”
Sergio Garcia is yet to win a Major but he is widely acknowledged as one of the finest golfers in the world today and returns to South Africa hoping to become the first foreign golfer to win three Nedbank Golf Challenge titles.
El Nino, as he is known by his fans, has won more than 20 international tournaments in the world, including The Players Championships in 2008, and at the same tournament earlier this year, appeared to be on his way to victory, tied for the lead, until he hit three balls into water hazards on the 17th and 18th holes.
His quadruple-bogey on the 17th and double-bogey on the 18th saw him finishing eighth but it was a public row he had with Tiger Woods, the eventual winner, during the third round of The Players Championship, which hogged the headlines and would, eventually, write one of the most controversial chapters in world sport this year.
At the European Tour Players Dinner, held just two weeks after The Players Championships, Garcia was asked about meeting with Woods at the US Open and his response, saying “we’ll have him every night, we will serve fried chicken”, triggered outrage around the world because of it was deemed racially insensitive.
Garcia, who won the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2001 and 2003, later apologized for his remarks. “Sergio has had an incredible season and he always brings such excitement to the Nedbank Golf Challenge,” said Roper. “We’re thrilled to have him in the field this year and looking to make his own bit of history in the event.”
Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge, who is known better in the United States, where he plays his golf, than back home or in South Africa, also makes his debut in the Nedbank Golf Challenge this year after another impressive season on the US PGA Tour.
Named the Zimbabwe 2012 Sportsperson of the Year, De Jonge, who was outstanding for the International team in their Presidents Cup showdown against the Americans, will be hoping to win his first golf title after coming close, on a number of occasions, in the past two years.
He will also attempt to follow into the footsteps of his idol, Nick Price, who first won the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 1993 and completed a hat-trick of victories by winning in 1997 and 1998 while Mark McNulty, another Zimbabwean, also won in 1986.
“Brendon is one of the most exciting players in the game at the moment. I’ve got no doubt he’ll continue the proud tradition of Zimbabwean golfers in the Nedbank Golf Challenge,” said Roper. “Many South Africans have never seen him play, so we’re really proud to be able to bring him to Sun City.”
Other big name players expected to feature in Africa’s Major include German star, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald of England and Brendan Grace of South Africa.